The familiar sight of Chabadniks inviting youths to put on tefillin may suffer a serious setback if a bill proposed by Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines in the Knesset on Monday becomes law. The bill would prevent adults from placing pressure on anyone under the age of 18 to increase or decrease their religious involvement.
According to Paz-Pines, too much pressure is placed on youths to alter their religious traditions. Pressing youths to observe or discard religious practices can 'cause the break-up of a family and cause damage to minors,' he said.
Menachem Brod, a spokesman for Chabad in Israel, said Paz-Pines's bill was absurd, and was intended to undermine religious Jewish life.
'Are they telling me that if someone is lacking a 10th member for their minyan, and they go out on the street and find a 17-year-old boy, they can't invite that bar-mitzvaed boy in to complete the minyan? This is evil,' he said. 'Why do we insist on treating teenagers as though they don't have the ability to make decisions?'
Ephraim Shore, a director of Jerusalem's Aish Hatorah Yeshiva, disagreed with Paz-Pines's reasoning, saying: 'There are so many reasons for schisms in the family... We have a heritage that has lasted over 3,000 years and we believe in teaching it to people. This heritage has not traditionally caused schism in the family.'
Shore rejected the assertion that some teenagers might be brainwashed into adopting religious practices.
'If you teach a Jew the beauty of Shabbat and he lights candles on Friday night, that is his choice, not some brainwashing,' he said. 'It's a free country. We have a popular Web site that 2 million people visit a month. Should we change it to an 'adult only' Web site just so that teens won't be exposed to the dangerous material we post there about Jewish life and traditions?'
Shore said there were dozens of programs in the US to encourage Jewish high school students to adopt Jewish traditions. He said most of Aish Hatorah's programs were geared for young adults over the age of 18, while other organizations, such as Chabad, encouraged teenagers to get involved and participate in their programs.
Paz-Pines's bill is the latest effort by MKs to supposedly protect youth. Earlier this month, MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) proposed a law that would make it illegal to sell lottery tickets to children under the age of 18. Two months ago Likud MKs sought to limit advertisements that could be placed near high schools.